Deme Group's big offshore wind reputation

Belgian player boasts full-spectrum expertise

One of the most successful companies to have established itself within the European offshore wind industry is Belgium’s Deme Group. Its subsidiary GeoSea has become a leading name in the offshore wind supply chain, while Deme’s achievements as a project developer should not be underrated.

While the majority of Deme Group’s revenue continues to derive from marine dredging, about 10-15% of annual total revenue of €1.8bn (2011) now derives from offshore wind, with the sector having been the company’s fastest growing service area in recent years.

"We are capable and willing to work on any aspect of an offshore wind project," explained GeoSea general manager, Luc Vandenbulcke, speaking with Windpower Offshore.

Deme’s success in meeting the needs of offshore wind clients is a direct result of its involvement with early projects in Swedish, Danish and Belgian waters. These included piling in Sweden, site investigations in Belgium and scour protection in Denmark. Such work allowed staff to develop offshore wind expertise of which many of Deme’s competitors would be envious.

"The turning point was our work in 2002 on the Samsø project," explains Vandenbulcke. "This was our first offshore wind turnkey project, undertaken by Dredging International/ Hydro Soil Services, a predecessor to GeoSea."

The group’s more recent offshore wind contracting project list includes contributions to an impressive number of UK offshore wind farms, including London Array, Ormonde, Walney, Humber Gateway and Teesside.

Deme is also active in the supply of offshore wind vessels. Its Neptune installation vessel has been deployed this year at Thornton Bank and its headline-grabbing partnership with German construction giant, Hochtief, has resulted in joint ownership of the Innovation.

Developing offshore projects

Best known as a contractor, Deme Group is also as an offshore wind developer and holds stakes in four Belgian projects: C-Power, Rentel, Seastar and Mermaid. In addition, its subsidiary Power@Sea has a 50% stake in the 200MW C-Wind offshore wind project, earmarked for waters off Gdansk. C-Wind is one of 14 offshore wind projects for which the Polish government has issued development licenses.

Deme has had less success in winning development rights in UK and French waters. "We tendered for the UK’s Round 3 programme, but didn’t win," states group chief executive, Alain Bernard.

Results of France’s first offshore wind tender were also a disappointment, but Bernard confirms that "we are continuing to take an interest in further French tenders. We are grabbing what is passing". Three new offshore wind projects in French waters are expected to be available for tender soon.

Another offshore wind investment is Deme Group’s stake in Renewable Offshore Base (Rebo) Oostende, an area of the port of Oostende dedicated to serving the offshore wind industry. Alstom is the biggest name, thus far, to have leased space at Rebo Oostende.

Deme Group’s current offshore wind project list includes site investigation for the 500MW Saint Brieuc wind farm, and turbine installation at Thornton Bank III. The latter has provided GeoSea with valuable experience with REpower’s 6MW turbines.

Other ongoing and/or recent projects include work on EnBW’s Baltic 2 and Trianel’s Borkum West 2. Meanwhile, the Belgian Northwind project is on the horizon.

Complexity on horizon

Introducing innovation to the European offshore wind market is an element of Deme Group’s strategy, although "we do not have a 200-strong research and development department," notes Bernard wryly.

Instead, the group’s various companies try to observe the market carefully and "respond by doing what no one else is trying to do," explains Vandenbulcke. An example is Deme’s approach to floating lidar technology, which combines the provision of equipment with ongoing data management services.

Deme subsidiary, Flidar, is working with the UK Carbon Trust’s offshore accelerator programme to test its verified floating lidar product at Gwynt y Môr offshore wind farm, and the company is in talks with two other developers about potential use. "Conventional met masts are not only expensive, they are slow," argues Vandenbulcke. "There is permitting, construction and installation. Floating lidar can be generating data from within a couple of months of an order."

Winning a sizeable portion of the emerging offshore wind operations and maintenance (O&M) market is another priority for Deme Group. Its company Offshore Wind Assistance has a long-term contract with Thornton Bank

Looking ahead, Bernard expects a dip in the growth rate of offshore wind contracting over the next few years. With countries such as Germany and Belgium forced to focus on building both their offshore grids and strengthening onshore electricity networks in order to integrate offshore wind-generated power, it is sensible to expect project delays. "I think grid issues will have a major impact," says Bernard.

Fittingly, Deme Group is also active in the offshore electricity transmission sector, via its company Deme Blue Energy, and is a member of Friends of the Supergrid, which is lobbying for the creation of a pan-European electricity network.

Deme’s offshore wind ambitions are significant, and are built on an enviable track record. For now, the group is focused on Europe, viewing the US offshore wind contracting market as largely a closed shop and south east Asia as also difficult to enter. "It is not easy to expand beyond Europe, as most markets are not open," notes Bernard. Thankfully, Europe’s offshore wind industry is likely to offer substantial room for growth for many years to come.